As we approach the fiscal cliff (by the time you read this, we might be over the edge), as we battle the sleet and the hail and the snow and the rain, there is one oasis that puts all that unimportant stuff out of mind, and it’s in a little theatre on West 43rd Street just west of Ninth Avenue.
Five very funny actors and a talented pianist of various shapes and ages, have been put together with a collection of songs, sketches and jokes that comprise the 90 hilarious minutes of Old Jews Telling Jokes. It’s been created by Peter Gethers and Daniel Ockrent, based on the original Internet series created by Sam Hoffman, and it’s more fun than champagne with which to put an end to 2012.
You don’t have to be old, Jewish or even a theatre lover to fall for this conglomeration of old time silliness that has to tickle your funny bone, that is if you have one. Every one in my audience had one, sometimes two, for the rafters of this small theatre shook as the laughs went on long after many of the jokes were over.
You can pick your favorite actor; I liked them all. I might lean partially toward Todd Sussman, Bill Army and Audrey Lynn Weston. Sussman is dry as a bone, and deliciously underplays his monologues and jokes, usually accompanying them with the most disarming facial takes. Mr. Army is young and tall as a beanpole, and his delivery is machine gun rapid and blissfully clear. Think a very young Danny Kaye, but a lot less crazed. In one sketch, he doubles as an old Jewish woman, and proves himself a master of mime. He’s done lots of Shakespeare in the regional theatres, and I guess Shakespeare is good training for joke tellers, for he hits the mark each time out. Ms. Weston has many credits on the fringe, and she is a comic discovery, nailing the New York Jewish women and children she plays, in addition to some other varied types.
This is not to dismiss Marilyn Sokol and Lenny Wolpe, both experienced character actors, both valuable contributors to the mirth and merriment of the evening. They both, however, work in a less subtle way, and though both are rewarded with huge boffo laughs throughout the show, I’m always more attracted to the slightly less in-your-face comics. Though on reflection, there are highlights of the show that belong to both of them. Sokol can make an exit that doesn’t quit until she’s way off in the wings.
The use of animation and film is minimal, but very helpful. The captions that accompany are funny too, and it all brings to mind the heyday of the New Yorker, which is odd, because that venerable institution was known mostly for its very WASPish humor from the pens of Gluyas Williams, Helen Hokinson and the like. It certainly didn’t pay much attention to the more boisterous New York types who would be the American version of the British music hall artists. Jews were nowhere to be found in those mid-century days when WASP was in, and ethnic humor was relegated to the ghetto theatres.
I won’t ruin the fun for you, but a couple of jokes stand out as I think back. All I ‘ll tell you is how one or two end, and that shouldn’t ruin them for you. Keep an ear out for one that ends with: “But you don’t have to get up in the morning,” and another that bows out with “the poor rabbi is a goner.” Another tag is: “Oh. Thank God I don’t have cancer.”
If your eyes tear when you laugh out loud a lot, and you will at all of these and about a hundred more, take a box of Kleenex™ with you. You’re going to need it..
Richard Seff, who, in his more than 60 year career on Broadway as a performer, agent, writer, and librettist, has recently written the book for Shine! The Horatio Alger Musical!, which debuted at the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is also author of Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrating his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes, available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com. Read more at RichardSeff.com
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